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Atheism

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Title: The God Delusion
Author: Richard Dawkins
Narrator: Richard Dawkins and Lalla Ward
Year: 2006

Beginning with a book titled The God Delusion, by now famous evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, is rather different from starting with most other books in that the reader probably has a deeply rooted opinion about the book even before reading the first line. I knew a bit about the author and I read the book because I wanted to find out what all the fuss was about and whether he really is so assertive as some say. I should say from the outset that I am an atheist myself and that I expected no great surprises from the book.

In short, the title summarises the content fairly well: the book is about why the notion of God (and religion in general) is a delusion. Of course, he uses several chapters to discuss related matters and manages to cover many things including why he thinks it important to spread the word. I think the structure is straightforward, and using it, the author manages to explain his standpoint.

While mentioning that I am in the process of reading the book, many people have asked me what purpose the book has, is it perhaps to make converts and stamp out religion? Oh, yes, it is indeed, although that sounds overly militant to my Swedish mind (it is sometimes, too), because Sweden is a rather secular country and even if we have many religious people, it is not a prominent issue in politics, which is not true for the United States. Writing The God Delusion from a Swedish point of view would be overkill, but addressing a much larger and much more religious American population, Dawkins has a clear goal in mind.

To me, and most people I know who are religious, religion is something private and not something used to impose opinions on others. What Dawkins targets mostly is the extremists, such as pro-life (sic!) activists murdering abortion doctors or creationists wanting to use Genesis as the preferred way of explaining to small children how the world and humanity came about. Regarding these matters, I agree a hundred percent with the author.

Much time is spent on explaining things I think obvious (but of course is not for everyone, so this is not necessarily something bad for another reader than myself), such as why fundamentalism is wrong or how basic of evolution theory works. However, he also presents well-put arguments I have not thought of or heard before. Let me give you an example when it comes to interpreting scripture literally of metaphorically when using it as moral guide.

Dawkins argues that our sense of morality cannot possibly be derived from the Bible (or the Koran or whatever), because in constructing values which have any bearing at all on modern society, one has to pick and choose what to take metaphorically (for instance, some things God does in the Old Testament is absolutely abominable to me if interpreted literally). The bottom line is of course that one needs some sense of morals in order to be able to choose what ports to use, and scripture itself of course not be a guide to itself, since it is not clear what is to be taken literally.

Although many people have said so, I do not find the author’s style excessively aggressive or rude (remember that his intention is to convince people), at least in the earlier chapters. His argumentation is clear, based on sound logic and without much rancour. Later on, when he sets out to comment religion itself (instead of presenting why evolution is so neat), the tone gets harsher, and excessively so at times. He uses some derisive irony that is absolutely unnecessary and only manages to make me skeptical, not about what he says, but how. Thomas H. Huxley might have been Charles Darwin’s bulldog, but saying that Richard Dawkins is his rottweiler is exaggerating and not taking the century difference between the two proponents of evolutionary theory into account.

I feel that I have to comment what I believe about the core question, because reading a book makes one think, regardless of in which direction your opinion might go. For the most part, I agree with what Dawkins says, but I am one of those soft-hearted persons who does not like to tread on other people when I do not have to (I hate it even then, in fact). Perhaps I think so because I live in a society which is comparatively free from religious extremism and I do not encounter it on a daily (or even yearly) basis. Perhaps my opinion would have differed if that changed.

What I do not agree with, however, is his argument that a tool (which I think religion can be, just like philosophy, albeit less based on reason) is useless if it is not true. Let me for a moment assume that God does not exist. In that case, I would still feel that there might be a conceivable point in being religious, because it might benefit one personally in some way, and thus I do not feel it is my right to trespass and intrude on other people personal territory. Bear in mind that I expect the previous argument to be valid the other way around, too, which is why I think most of what the author says is valid.

Do I recommend The God Delusion? That depends very much on what you want to get from it. If you are religious and interested in challenging your world view, you should probably give it a try. If you are somewhere in the middle (agnostic, for instance), I definitely think you should read it (he even has a chapter dedicated to you). If you are an atheist, do not bother as long as you do not enjoy debating with creationists, because in that case The God Delusion is indeed fuel on your fire. Personally, I am glad that I read the book, but since I belong to the last group mentioned above and not very interested in arguing with religious people, I cannot give the book more than three and a half snails.

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